Thursday, November 8, 2012

This Is Not a Drill Blog Tour

We are also lucky to be participating in the Blog Tour for this great new young adult novel and we are so happy to have Beck McDowell herself as a guest blogger today as well as a giveaway of this suspenseful book.  Beck is a former middle and high school English teacher and continues to promote literacy through her novels, her passion as well as an amazing website, Not Required Reading, where teens write book reviews to share. 
When we finished This is Not a Drill, our immediate question was how Beck had chosen this topic to write about in a Young Adult book. Below our review, you will find her fascinating answer to this question. 

Title: This Is Not a Drill 
Author: Beck McDowell 
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books 
Publication Date: October 25th, 2012 
Genre/Format: Realistic Fiction/Novel  
GoodReads Summary: Two teens try to save a class of first-graders from a gun-wielding soldier suffering from PTSD.
     When high school seniors Emery and Jake are taken hostage in the classroom where they tutor, they must work together to calm both the terrified children and the gunman threatening them--a task made even more difficult by their recent break-up. Brian Stutts, a soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Iraq, uses deadly force when he's denied access to his son because of a custody battle. The children's fate is in the hands of the two teens, each recovering from great loss, who now must reestablish trust in a relationship damaged by betrayal. Told through Emery and Jake's alternating viewpoints, this gripping novel features characters teens will identify with and explores the often-hidden damages of war. 
What Jen Thinks: I've shared before that my dad is a veteran of the Vietnam War and that he has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It's so interesting to me to read about characters who are also dealing with PTSD. I'm glad we have another book that shares what it might be like to encounter or live with a veteran with PTSD. It saddens me that we (as a country) haven't figured out how to help soldiers with PTSD returning to civilian life but that seems to be the case. I do think bringing awareness to how difficult going back to mainstream culture and life is important so I'm happy we have This Is Not a Drill. I really enjoyed getting to know Jake and Emery in this book. I loved reading from each of their perspectives and I think young adult readers will relate to their stories and how each of them deals with the situation at hand. Beck does a great job of bringing them to life. 
What Kellee Thinks: What an intense book! I read it in one sitting and couldn't put it down. From page one, Beck McDowell reels you in keeps you hooked for the next 200 pages. 
     Emery and Jake are high school students volunteering at an elementary school 3 days a week. They are also ex- girlfriend/boyfriend so the interaction is a bit awkward. But none of this matters when a gun wielding vet with PTSD invades the classroom demanding custody of his son. Now, they have to work together to ensure that the eighteen 6-year-olds in the classroom make it out safe.
     I am so glad that Beck wrote this book in 1st person alternating point of views. It really allowed for the reader to be part of the action as it unfolded. It made it more intimate because not only were you seeing the actions from more than one place (like 3rd person would have done), but the reader was able to know Jake and Emery's emotions and motives. 
Read Together:  Grades 8 and up
Read Alone:  Grades 7 and up
Read With: Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick, BADD by Tim Tharp, Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser, Shooter by Walter Dean Myers, Personal Effects by E.M. Kokie
Snatch of Text:  "I pretend to empty my pockets onto the desk nearest me, hoping he won't notice the slight cell phone bulge still there. "Don't worry," I tell him. "You won't have any problem from me. I don't want these kids hurt, and besides, I'm no hero." That's the understatement of the year. 
     "I don't wanna hurt anybody, either, kid, I'm just tryin' to be a good dad. I'm not gonna let them take my son away from me. Not my wife" - he's getting louder and some of the words are slurred - "and not a bunch of small-town bureaucrats like those people down in the office. I don't need anybody tryin' to run my life. You got that, Jake?"
     "We'll do whatever we can to help you sir," I say, keeping my voice even and looking him in the eye. "Just don't hurt the people in this room. We're not the enemy." 
     "That's the problem, Jake; I don't know who the enemy is any more. Maybe I never knew who the enemy was. The enemy's everywhere." His voice gets even louder. "You don't know who's tryin' to mess you up. You can't tell where the shootin's comin' from!" 
   It's crazy talk to so I keep quiet. Emery's eyes move from the gun aimed at her to Stutts and back to the gun again. The gun changes everything and there's no way to know how this will end." (Jake, p. 17-18)
Mentor Text For: Activating Background Knowledge, Making Connections, Point of View, Suspense, Flashback
Writing Prompts: Choose a topic from this book or related to this book to learn more about. Gather information and then write a persuasive essay to convince your reader to support the topic you chose. For example, you may want to learn more about PTSD and then persuade your reader to support veterans dealing with PTSD. 
Topics Covered: PTSD, Custody, Education, Panic attacks, Diabetes, Iraq war
Beck's Guest Post: A friend recently asked me if I plan to write any books for adults. I explained to her that 55% of the people reading YA today ARE adults, but my writing will always be geared primarily toward teens.  High schoolers are the reason I began writing. As a middle and high school teacher, I spent years researching, reading, and promoting books I thought my students would like. A big part of my mission as an educator was showing teens who associated reading with required books they’d disliked that there was a world of great young adult books out there that they would love. I loved the way their eyes lit up when they discovered The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Looking for Alaska, I Am the Messenger, and others.
     I had so much respect for the students I taught who were going through tough situations at home and managed to persevere through the school day with such great attitudes. So it wasn’t surprising that my first book was about a teen hero. I wrote Last Bus Out in 2007 – the true story of Courtney Miles, who stole a school bus and drove over 300 people out of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The idea began when I read a San Francisco Chronicle article about him after he moved to California to play basketball. I interviewed him, mostly by phone but twice in person, over two years and wrote his story. The book was picked up by a great agent but when the economy fell apart, we were unable to sell it, and I eventually published it as an enhanced ebook and print-on-demand paperback.
     The idea for This is Not a Drill came from a conversation I’d had with my 2nd grade nephew. He told me they’d been instructed, if they were in the bathroom when a lock-down was announced, to lock the stall door, sit on the toilet, and pull their feet up in case someone came in. It broke my heart to think of him there alone and afraid and that image stayed with me. I never worried about violence in the classroom when I taught, but I dreamed about it several times - so I know the fear was there in my subconscious.
     It’s a troubling subject – for adults and for kids – but we’re certainly all aware of random acts of violence that occur in public places, and I actually think kids would be more comfortable talking about it than pretending it doesn’t exist. In fact, it makes sense to prepare them as best we can for any dangerous situation they might encounter. The Stranger Danger speech parents have always given their kids (Don’t get in the car with the man who wants you to help him find his puppy) now has to be expanded to “if you hear gunfire, move away fast or drop to the floor, depending on how close it is.” It happens – in malls, in movie theaters, in schools, and I think we can have these discussions with children without traumatizing them. We have fire drills and tornado drills regularly, but kids understand that the occurrence of either is unlikely. We teach them to buckle their seatbelts – but they don’t constantly fear a car accident. Depending on the maturity level of the child, the discussion can be as simple as: never open a locked outside school door to a stranger, always tell a teacher if you see someone unfamiliar in the building, and move to the nearest classroom if you’re in the hall when a lock-down is announced.
     While researching This is Not a Drill, I put together a list of safety tips for students and one for teachers. I realized I’d never been given any instruction for what to do if a gun appeared in my classroom - even though I knew guns had been discovered in several schools where I’d taught. Something as simple as, “I’m going to send my students to the library so you and I can talk,” wouldn’t have entered my mind in that situation, but it would be worth a try if there’s any chance an intruder might allow it. And it would certainly be comforting to know that most hostage situations are resolved safely, and to think of my role as just keeping things stable until authorities arrived.
     Of course, much of the book centers around trying to understand the soldier’s experiences that have led to his losing hope and losing control. And this is another discussion we, as a society, need to have – with a generation of young men and women returning from battlegrounds in Iraq and other areas. When I speak in schools, students often have questions about PTSD, and I explain that it can occur after many scenarios, including car accidents, child abuse, and for many of my students – surviving natural disasters like the tornadoes we had in Alabama a year or so ago.
     While I don’t like books with heavy morals, I’m sure the “teacher” part of me will always be “teaching” in any book I write.  A fast-paced, engaging story should always be paired with an opportunity for students to think and grow. If  my story helps readers engage with larger life ideas like PTSD, response to danger, the pain of loss, courage in tense situations, the power of young people to act heroically, then I’ve done my job as a writer. And as a former teacher, I know that teens are capable and eager to discuss these big life issues in the context of good literature.
Thank you so much Beck! 
And please check out the other stops on the This is Not a Drill blog tour: 
Thursday, Oct. 25         CYNTHIA LEITICH SMITH
Friday, Oct. 26             A LIFE BOUND BY BOOKS   
Monday, Oct. 29          THE STORY SIREN  
Tuesday, Oct. 30          YA BLISS  
Wednesday, Oct. 31     BUZZ WORDS BOOKS    
Thursday, Nov. 1          YA LOVE BLOG 
Friday, Nov. 2              ICEY BOOKS    
Monday, Nov. 5           NERDY BOOK CLUB      
Tuesday, Nov. 6           THE NAUGHTY BOOK KITTIES 
Wednesday, Nov. 7      THE COMPULSIVE READER 
Thursday, Nov. 8          TEACH MENTOR TEXTS   
Friday, Nov. 9              CONFESSIONS OF A BOOKAHOLIC 
Monday, Nov. 12         KATIE’S BOOK BLOG 
Tuesday, Nov. 13         ALLURING READS 
Wednesday, Nov. 14    PAGE TURNERS BLOG 
Thursday, Nov. 15        MY BEST FRIENDS ARE BOOKS  

Jen and Kellee *heart* It:

**Thank you to Beck and Penguin for providing us with copies of This is Not a Drill for review**

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